In this article I will discuss sump pumps.

In the previous article I suggested that getting water away from the house with properly installed grading and downspouts can keep basements dry 99% of the time.  But what about those times when that’s not possible, or we get one of those severe storms that seem to come with increasing frequency.

If your house is less than 40 years old, then a system was most likely installed to help deal with water around the perimeter of the foundation.  It was installed when the house was being built and before the foundation was backfilled.  It consists of a black tar like substance that is sprayed on the foundation wall all the way from the expected grade line down to the footing (this is at the bottom of the basement walls).  Along the footing, drain tile would have been installed.  Drain tile is the black tubing you see with slots in it so water can drain into it along its length.  This drain tile is covered with filter fabric and gravel to keep it from getting clogged by small fines and it runs along the entire footing to collect water that is draining down the exterior of the foundation.  It gives a place for the water to go so it doesn’t build up pressure and push its way through the walls.

Where the water in the drain tile ends up depends on whether your house has a walkout basement or not.  If you have a walkout basement, then the drain tile would terminate in the back yard.  If you do not have a walkout then the water would go to a sump pump.  In that case, the drain tile goes through the footing in at least one location to the sump pit.  The sump pit is simply a bucket in the ground that collects the water and the sump pump that is in the pit automatically turns on when activated by a float switch to pump the water outside.  Obviously, it is important to get the discharge of the sump pump moving far enough away from the house so that the water does not simply go back down the outside of the foundation to the sump pit.

A sump pump is a handy way to deal with other sources of water too.  These could include any or all of the following: the AC condensate, high efficiency gas furnace condensate, water heater over pressure relief valve (TPR) discharge pipe, washing machine pan, window well drains, egress window drain, and most importantly (because of the volume of water), the drain at the bottom of the exterior basement stairwell if you have one.

With all that water going into the sump pit, a pump failure could create a very bad situation: water in the basement.  Ironically, when you need it the most, during a severe rain storm, is when the sump pump is most vulnerable to failure because of a loss of power.  In the next article I will talk about backup sump pumps.

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